The Best Albums of 2013

Impose Automaton

The Best Albums of 2013

Due to some ungodly happenings in 2013, this was a year that we'd like to forget—forever, if possible. With no shortage of Miley Cyrus, Morrissey, or SkyDIIV news to report, it seemed like the unlucky number 13 was out to get the best of us, no matter how hard we tried to stay Roggenbuck-#posi. The saving grace, as always, ended up being whiskey and sleeping pills the music and we're happy to say that we made it out alive, thanks entirely to the fifty albums we've compiled for you here. This time around, after finding it harder and harder to hierarchically rank what we considered to be some of the best deliveries of 2013, we took a new approach: below, we've got our top ten for you (meticulously deliberated and argued over into the late hours of the night), and then the remaining forty in an unranked slideshow. But these aren't anything but numbers—all fifty of these albums challenged us, changed us, and helped us sleep in the year that was. 2013, you were a piece of work, but thanks for the good times anyway.

10. La Luz, It’s Alive (Hardly Art)

In the tradition of 60s girl-driven surfpop, La Luz’s debut It’s Alive exhibits feminine camaraderie, retromania, and a spirited knack for vivid songcraft. On several tracks from the Seattle band’s debut, the ghostly vocals and shaky guitars make a storyline that is not unlike a throwback horror classic—that is, if the protagonist were a surfer. The highlights of It’s Alive aren’t just in its eeriness, though—you can instinctively hear in La Luz’s songs that they are a tightknit group of women who have found the sweet spot for crushingly listenable vibes, shake-em-loose danceability, and jangle joy that has the cleansing properties of the ocean.

09. Co La, Moody Coup (Software)

Following up his 2011 album Daydream Repeater, Baltimore’s Matthew Papich reveals that his mastery of making teleporting, overt landscapes of artful sound is alive and well, if not more nuanced this time. On Moody Coup, a record whose language is more Martian than human, Co La flummoxes his listeners by structuring songs around untrustworthy rhythms, bopped vocals, and sounds that catapult between the realm of the digital and the world of the extraterrestrial. Improving on his debut by building the hi-end of his sound, Co La’s second album was not only unique in all the right ways, but practically paranormal in its quality. Do not intake through shitty earbud headphones.

08. Monster Rally, Return to Paradise (Gold Robot)

If you’ve been planning on taking a tropical vacation all year, but haven’t had the funds or the gumption to cement flight plans, Return to Paradise is a record that cannot be missed. Colorful and lush in a variety of tones, Monster Rally has found a way to make breezy, dancy electropop that imagines a catalog of nature photos in National Geographic if they were stitched together with keyboards and samples. The result is as diverse as the jungle and as international as a one-way flight, jetsetting the listener to lands afar without feeling like a misstep in cultural robbery or tourism. There is more natural here than might initially be suspected, and its greatest reward is in learning that Return to Paradise makes you breathe deep without your even knowing it.

07. Palehound, Bent Nail EP (Exploding In Sound)

Yonkers-based musician Ellen Kempner may have been too young to fully appreciate the early Martsch oeuvre as it was happening, but her Bent Nail EP would certainly attest to otherwise. Her songwriting is sharp and quick, utilizing atonal guitar lines to push her Kim Deal-style vocals through each song, and with lyrics that lay bare emotions that struggle to reconcile ego with id, Kempner is as wise with her words as Liz Phair. The Bent Nail EP doesn’t exist entirely in a decade longsince past, but it channels new, relevant worries—“Vandalize my body if it helps you sleep”—through distant filters, making the six tracks feel at once present and removed, which is any artist’s most sought-after accomplishment.

06. The Range, Nonfiction (Donky Pitch)

The joy of listening to Nonfiction isn't in the sonic calm before the storm, but in finding the calm within the storm. “Hamiltonian” captures this aural tug-of-war perfectly, its dramatic piano and strings providing solace from the skipping drum samples and fallout shelter sirens. The isolated hi-hat taps and minimal footwork structure of “Seneca” unfolds into a flurry of gale force breaks that could tear the song apart if it weren't for the strands of twinkling harmonies holding it together. With unbridled chaos and unmistakable tranquility occupying the same living quarters, The Range has created an album full of beauty and tension. Despite Hinton's acknowledgement of the sounds and subgenres that have come before Nonfiction, it still feels noticeably different from the work of his contemporaries, which says volumes about his abilities as an arranger and a producer.

05. World's Fair, Bastards of the Party (Fool's Gold)

World’s Fair still carries the chip for Queens. When the party dissipates, a skit offers a glimpse into the burden of partying with a Brooklyn chick and trying to get her to roll back for an after-hours gathering in the Northeast borough. She concedes to join them, but on the drive things go sour, and the crew leave her cursing the bumass Queens crew on the side of the road. The album ends with “Blacklisted” which sounds like it's being delivered from a rooftop looking at the Queensbridge over the night's last beer. By title alone “Blacklisted” expresses a contempt for how the rest of New York feels about the kids from Queens. With not much changing for World's Fair since Queens… Revisited—in outside perception and the group's mentality—Bastards Of The Party feels like the classic tragedy in which the outsiders are too damaged in their disdain to do good.

04. Cross Record, Etc. (Self-released)

Etc. feels not at all like a collection of B-sides, but instead a photograph of sonic bits and pieces that fit together like an instrumental, experimental puzzle. Particularly in Emily Cross's confoundingly gorgeous and challenging cover of Chris Isaak's “Wicked Game”, you'll find that Etc. is a self-conscious title for a record that actually gives much more than it lets on. Tune in at the fifth track, “Stuart Beach”, to hear some gentle waves at the close of a minor-melody instrumental, and you'll be so captivated as to be entranced. It's experimental and lilting and full of immaculate depth, and does much to serve Be Good (Cross's debut full-length) as both a companion in tone but also a complement in exhibiting her skill as an aesthete.

03. Guerilla Toss, Gay Disco (NNA Tapes)

Flailing, caustic, and confrontational, Guerilla Toss’s debut record, Gay Disco, shows none of the signs of timidity that typically come with a beginner’s output. Formed from members of the New England Conservatory, in a similar fashion to Nashville’s Diarrhea Planet (Belmont Unversity alums, all), Guerilla Toss decided to create a record that simultaneously challenged the notions of traditional music while also showing that music, as an abstract concept, can mean different things to different listeners. Gay Disco experiments with sonics, abrasiveness, and caterwauling delights that halt melody-driven pop songs with a burning-rubber screech. Not for the faint of heart, though impassioned enough to turn weak hearts to steel.

02. Dirty Beaches, Drifters/Love is the Devil (Zoo Music)

If Alex Zhang Hungtai had the egomania for it, he could better than us, but he was born in the wrong month, I suppose. His Dirty Beaches project broke loose with Badlands, which painted him as a leader of the pack type who fell victim to the same devil's deal that haunted Robert Johnson. He was pure rogue Americana and he took it to the stage. He'd stand alone in blue jeans and a white t-shirt, guitar slung over his shoulders, a singular blade of hair slicing down his forehead, and he was breathtaking whether you found it cool or sexy or macho or intimidating. But he'd end his set smiling, embracing a friend in the audience—whether old or new—and he'd be overcome with gratitude, the type a truly gracious smile cannot fake.

Hungtai could be a rockstar, in the traditional definition, but he knows the fate of it, like he knows the risk he'd run if Drifters/Love Is The Devil imitated the success of Badlands. In presenting himself, in his triumphs and his flaws, Dirty Beaches is free to evolve alongside the man. Hungtai is free to challenge us with a double disc of mostly instrumental wanderings and free of the pretension we'd assume had Bradford Cox presented the same album.

01. The Mallard, Finding Meaning In Deference (Castle Face Records)

The Mallard’s sophomore effort, Finding Meaning in Deference, is doomed to be colored by the circumstances of its release. In April, after a rough tour, some canceled shows, and an increasing sense of disenchantment with her music, frontwoman Greer McGettrick announced that she’d be pulling the plug on the Bay Area post-punk outfit. The Mallard’s final show would be April 18 in San Francisco. Their final album would come out this summer, and that would be the last we’d hear of the band.

With all of this in mind, it’s hard not to listen to Finding Meaning in Deference as a sort of goodbye letter—or, for the bleaker-minded among us, as The Mallard’s suicide note, written on the cusp of implosion. There are signs that could point you in that direction—a song entitled “Just An Ending,” a darker tone than the group’s debut, Yes On Blood, and the Rorschach test provided by the album’s mostly unintelligible lyrics. But ultimately, the urge to read the album this way is a bit of a dead end. Sure, it’s the Mallard’s swan song (an “ugly duckling” joke here would be tasteless), but it’s also well produced, tastefully psychedelic, and contagious in the energy department. With the sonic decay at the end of the album, The Mallard throws down the microphone and storms offstage. McGettrick says she doesn’t see a reunion in the future, but as this album gets around, maybe it will become a case of Tom Sawyer attending his own funeral.

<p><a href="" target="_blank">Cough Cool, <em>29</em> (Bathetic Records)</a></p>

<p>Dan Svizeny’s brand of sludgy, heavy-burning bedroom pop appeals to both the stoner crowd and the melancholic while occasionally meeting somewhere in the middle. After a debut full-length and several smaller releases over a series of labels, <em>29</em> is Cough Cool’s most consistent and sonically rewarding delivery. Fuzzy and worn, the record plays like slowly taking a lighter to a photograph: watching the images Svizeny creates with his effete vocals and his pop-intelligent guitar lines can only last as long as the flame is lit. Best enjoyed in bed, but surface listens are encouraged on blazingly hot, humid summer days.</p>

<p><a href="–thee-oh-sees" target="_blank">Thee Oh Sees, <em>Floating Coffin</em> (Castle Face Records)</a></p>

<p>Entering the world of Thee Oh Sees, where the more dubious aspects of the <em>Summer of Love</em> regularly get rear-ended by the unholiest of fuzz, you don’t get the sense that John Dwyer overthinks what he’s doing. But you don’t come to a band like this for their intellectual rigor, and that’s never been more apparent than with the free-flowing, cataclysmic intuition of <em>Floating Coffin</em>.</p>

<p><a href="">Hot Sugar, <em>Made Man</em> EP / <em>Midi Murder</em> EP (self-released)</a></p>

<p>The <em>Made Man EP</em> has an allstar lineup of both well-established friends of Hot Sugar (Big Baby Gandhi, Heems, Kool A.D., Weekend Money, and Children of the Night) and lesser-knowns (Bill Ding and GTW among them), which all go to show that Nick Koenig has both his heart and his loyalties in the right place. Releasing both the former and the <em>Midi Murder EP</em> all in one year reveal that Hot Sugar also can't slow down, making it hard to make him a mark but for our utmost respect.</p>

<p><a href="" target="_blank">Porches., <em>Slow Dance in the Cosmos </em>(Exploding In Sound)</a></p>

<p>Begging for third and fourth listens, Aaron Maine's lyricism on his <em>Slow Dance in the Cosmos</em> record makes a hasty indulger feel foolish. The young wordsmith reveals lyrics about sex, mortality, and young love with immaculate simplicity, all while giving power to the shiny sadpop guitars and slow-beating toms, both which dominate the record. Maine's vocals move along with fresh ease and there is a triumphant nuance to the release, though its sadness and malaise are ever-present. The album reminds of both Tom Waits and Matt Pond PA but doesn't leave anxiety too far behind, either. A mixed-emotions album for our trying modern times.</p>

<p><a href="">YC The Cynic, <em>GNK </em>(self-released)</a></p>

<p>We love to note that YC The Cynic is raised in the Bronx, the birthplace of hip hop, as though it is a birthright to realness in a bloodline deeper than Rakim's life source. The undeniable quality to YC's music and resume, and what entices those lineage impulses, is that in addition to being an integral member of the <a href="">Rebel Diaz Arts Collective</a> (bringing community and the five elements of hip hop to his neighborhood) YC invokes his predecessors in a manner that proves he's not only celebrating their efforts, but adding to the conversation. Many have claimed to think very deeply since the days of Boogie Down Productions, but on "Murphy's Law" YC the Cynic bends the words of Drake, the moniker of Posdnous, and the "get money" chants of Junior Mafia to his will, just to have us understand how the system is designed to keep us kneedeep in bullshit.</p>

<p><a href="" target="_blank">Kirin J Callinan, <em>Embracism</em> (Terrible Records/XL Recordings)</a></p>

<p>Kirin J Callinan’s <em>Embracism</em> is a monster of a record with an oily “difficult listen” tag strapped to its back like an albatross. Another Australian export though he may be, Callinan’s debut solo effort comes full up with transnational efficiency: through the heavy tenor of Callinan’s voice, the haute-pop waywardness of his song structures, and the sharp angles of his abused (and abusive) guitar, we feel the stylings of Scott Walker, Nick Cave, and Ian Curtis. Though if we’re sharing influences, Callinan could lay claim to everything from Ginsberg’s <em>Howl</em> to a DeWalt industrial table saw to the Will Ferrell parodies of Robert Goulet. And from wrangling with those influences, the listener circles back around to the record’s title: “embrace,” from the Latin for “in arms,” constructs an artistic double entendre. Not only is Callinan’s record difficult to embrace—it practically slithers out of our grasp like a lithe serpent.</p>

<p><a href="" target="_blank">Marnie Stern, <em>The Chronicles of Marnia</em> (Kill Rock Stars)</a></p>

<p>Though Marnie Stern’s first three records were chock full of expressive, outrageous, and over-the-top signs of life, her fourth, the hilariously titled <em>Chronicles of Marnia</em>, is the one that has ably combined her guitar skill with fantastic pop songwriting. Stern has moved away from the art-rock genre (and subsequently traded in Zach Hill for Kid Millions on drums), but while she has visibly shed her difficult roots, she’s created a record so thoroughly joyous that it’s hard to believe some of its lyrics are existential and questioning. The result is a perfect Marnie Stern album: plush with torrential guitar noise that is only bested by expressive, bubbly song structures. Best enjoyed on long suburban runs and on down days when no caffeine (or help) is in sight.</p>

<p><a href="" target="_blank">Pachangacha, <em>WEIRDHEAD</em> (Major Bear Records/Songs From the Road)</a></p>

<p>When Bryce Pulaski sings "I'm really confused a lot," on one of the standout tracks from Pachangacha's debut <em>WEIRDHEAD</em>, the sentiment couldn't be more telling. Through lines that both revere and revile Pulaski's romantic interests, there hasn't been a songwriter with such self-aware unawareness since Rivers Cuomo. The New England four-piece uses Pulaski's confusion to expert effect, working fuzzy guitar lines and excellent drumming over and around his high-pitched whine. The end result makes <em>WEIRDHEAD</em> not only a fun record, but one that is smarter than it lets on, rough and scuzzy at first glance but immaculately polished and frighteningly tongue-in-cheek not far below the surface.</p>

<p><a href="">J-Zone, <em>The Peter Pan Syndrome</em> (Old Maid Billionaires)</a></p>

<p>There came a time when we no longer needed J-Zone to help us check our egos and social habits. Much like the manifestation of MF Doom, <em>Peter Pan Syndrome</em> emerges when we lost our perspective on reality. Operation: Doomsday came to destroy rap. <em>Peter Pan Syndrome</em> is here to criticize our addiction to cell phones, rip down our veil of a post-racial America, and make gray-haired rappers think twice before getting back in the studio—and that goes for the gray-haired one making it. Daniel Dumile turned his vices in booze and shady business into a marketable character. J-Zone turned his inability to jumpstart a career into a memoir and followed it up with a concept record. It's just tough to determine if he made it imperfect on purpose or if he truly can't help but trip over his own shoelaces.</p>

<p><a href="" target="_blank">Emily Reo, <em>Olive Juice</em> (Elestial Sound)</a></p>

<p>After a great deal of anticipation, Emily Reo finally released her debut full-length this year to Elestial Sound, and if it proves anything, it's that waiting is usually worth it. <em>Olive Juice</em> utilizes Reo's double-overdubbed vocals and generous avant-pop waves to make for a record listen that sounds like it's coming from inside a digital, rainbowed pillow. It's warm and lush and brimming with sweetness, but not the syrupy kind—it's just subtle enough to remind us that electropop doesn't have to be overloaded with lightness and shine. Its beauty is found in the touching terrarium of highs and lows that Emily Reo drops casually, unaffectedly, proving that the power in her songs is with their effortlessness.</p>

<p><a href="" target="_blank">Yvette, <em>Process</em> (GODMODE)</a></p>

<p>Ideal attributes for a listenable album don't typically include out-of-pocket snare hits, unresolved dissonance, or metallic screeches. However, sometimes that’s just what art-rock gives us, and sometimes a band might just pull it off well enough to capture our attention. The Brooklyn-based Yvette does it better that anyone out there, using their wildly expressionistic album <em>Process</em> to not only keep us on our toes, but burrowed deep with prolonged interest.</p>

<p><a href="">El-P & Killer Mike, <em>Run The Jewels</em> (Fool's Gold)</a></p>

<p>Killer Mike and El-P are asking you to gaffle them for their new record. It's in the name they chose. They are almost obligated to embrace the art of theft by allowing us to pirate their jams without the use of a switchblade or heater. Produced entirely by El-P, Mike and Jamie trade verses through the 10-track download, making this collaboratively different than their work on Killer Mike's <em>R.A.P. Music</em> LP last year on William Street (and our staff pick for <a href="">Album of The Year</a>). In our <a href="">Bothering</a> with Killer Mike last June he hinted at working on his "next two records," both heavily involving his new best friend in the world, El-P.<em> Run The Jewels</em> features guest appearances by Until The Ribbon Breaks, Prince Paul appearing as Chest Rockwell of Handsome Boy Modeling School, and Big Boi. A classic.</p>

<p><a href="–warm-soda" target="_blank">Warm Soda, <em>Someone For You</em> (Castle Face Records)</a></p>

<p>Former Bare Wires bandleader Matthew Melton's new project, Warm Soda, takes the same fuzz-filled approach to precious pieces of power pop on their debut, <em>Someone for You</em>. Though muted down in a noticeably restrictive lo-fi production quality (a cage for those radio-ready choruses), <em>Someone for You</em> keeps Warm Soda’s punchy rhythms and glammed-out, shimmering strut through a series of sunshiney songs about lady lovers.</p>

<p><a href="" target="_blank">Keep Shelly In Athens, <em>At Home</em> (Cascine)</a></p>

<p>The Athens, Greece duo takes you through their reflective waters as RNR sends the synthesized tide formations running underwater while Sarah P. brings down the clouds from the sky in a Polaroid color splash into an affectionate ocean. While gazing into the track's global bodies of vocal-synth edited waters, <em>At Home</em> provides a sound print autobiography where every note, key, guitar and hush tells a story through pictures for the ear. Following the memory trails of reminiscing on those recalled portraits of the past that display "what we were," this debut has a quality like those items of feelings and memories that are triggered from looking through photo albums, digital and physical of vacations past.</p>

<p><a href="–chelsea-wolfe" target="_blank">Chelsea Wolfe, <em>Pain Is Beauty</em> (Sargent House)</a></p>

<p>Wolfe hones in on the beautiful intensity of the natural world. Each of the twelve tracks is a pensive reflection on notions of collapse and renewal, conjuring images of fierce winds, tsunami waves and forest fires as the earth opens and swallows civilization whole. The subject matter allows Wolfe to explore new vocal boundaries, demonstrating an unseen dexterity as she travels from whisper to falsetto. For the first time, her vocal capacity is truly unleashed as she pushes her voice through effects pedals to transform it into an instrument of remarkable efficacy.</p>

<p><a href="" target="_blank">Antwon, <em>In Dark Denim</em> (Greedhead)</a></p>

<p>Welcome San Jose by the Bay's new big poppa Antwon to Greedhead, where tales of carnal exploits and cameos by Himself, and fellow Greedhead-er Big Baby Gandhi are brought to life with production from DJ Slorp, seafaring Berlin blog-waver Teams, and the always amazing Cities Aviv.</p>

<p><a href="–diarrhea-planet" target="_blank">Diarrhea Planet, <em>I'm Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams</em> (Infinity Cat Recordings)</a></p>

<p>This is an album for kids who spent their adolescence haunting 7-11 parking lots and house parties where their older brothers refused to acknowledge them. It’s suburban and grimy and best of all, it doesn’t try to be something it’s not—in light of their recent success, Diarrhea Planet have made no attempt to change their name, after all. The Nashville band’s sophomore output guilefully meshes Spinal Tap humor and expert guitar chops with elaborate, intelligent observations on youth, success, hope, self-faith, and what to do when you lack in all four. On “Kids”, the album’s most giving track, Jordan Smith shrieks, “Can we carry so much weight?” and it covers exactly the feeling of crashing head-on into an adulthood we weren’t yet ready for. It’s as if the lot of us had fallen asleep on the ride home from Warped Tour and woke up to our mid-20s plunged in the dissatisfied feeling this age disseminates.</p>

<p><a href="–deep-magic" target="_blank">Deep Magic, <em>Reflections of Most Forgotten Love</em> (Preservation)</a></p>

<p><em>Reflections</em> is the third record from Alex Gray’s solo project, an undertaking he produces when he’s not working as a live member of Sun Araw, and if you’ve ever been to a 90-minute hot yoga class the morning after abusing the cheapness of cheap beer, you’ve already heard this record without realizing it. It starts with a deep, sonorous bellow, layered with the trickling water of a nearby creek, and as a natured acoustic guitar ambles around a microphone, the entry into its 10-track offering is smooth and filled with possibility. “Only You” begins as a shedding of skin, a literal offering meant to give sacrifice to the sun gods and let go of all that ails you. By creating a generous foundation in the opening of this record, Deep Magic enables giving in to all 42 minutes of its life cycle with demonstrative ease. This should not be, by any means possible, indulged on shuffle or in single servings.</p>

<p><a href="">Serengeti, <em>Saal</em> (Graveface Records)</a></p>

<p>In 2012 Serengeti released three exceptional records, a big three even, written with the potential to break his career wide open. He collaborated with Son Lux and Sufjan Stevens as s/s/s on the <em>Beak & Claw</em> EP, which went disgracefully overlooked. His alter-ego Kenny Dennis issued shots at Shaq-Diesel and those truly to blame for the Cubs missing the ’03 World Series on an EP produced entirely by Odd Nosdam and Jel. He finished 2012 off sans the comedic Bill Swerski’s Superfans accent on <em>C.A.R.</em>, also masterfully produced by Anticon label mates Odd Nosdam and Jel. Released on Graveface, <em>Saal</em> is a brilliant collaborative record with German producer Sicker Man, deserving of an honest listen, much like most Serengeti records. He is the freest of free thinkers. He may do as he pleases but it comes with the consequence of outcast.</p>

<p><a href="" target="_blank">Potty Mouth, <em>Hell Bent</em> (Old Flame/Marshal Teller)</a></p>

<p><em>Hell Bent</em> is a record that combines smatterings of early poppunk, a touch of Kathleen Hanna extra-devotion, and some of the colorful sass you found in the Spice Girls. Despite its fearsome name, <em>Hell Bent</em> is more fun than the group lets on—full of vibrant teenage anthems and life laments we’ve all been privy to, this debut is more for parties than rage-outs. As the record moves by at the speed of light, you’ll find your heart is swollen, your face is flushed, and your full of those unfamiliar youthful feelings again, as if they had ever left.</p>

<p><a href="">Big Baby Gandhi, <em>Debut </em>(Crack Diamonds)</a></p>

<p>Big Baby Gandhi announced his retirement from rap in early 2013. He's giving up the moniker to be Nasif the pharmacist, which would also be a dope rap name. Before curtain call, Gandhi was generous enough to complete his swan song debut before retirement into the legalized drug game. Bluntly titled, <em>Debut</em> is a self-produced, self-arranged, and self-released record. Much like the freestyled purging at the end of the <em>No 1 2 Look Up 2 </em>mixtape, Big Baby Gandhi is leaving nothing unsaid on <em>Debut</em>. He's the same Gandhi who compacts his verses in prototypical rap tropes only to admit he's purposely pandering. From the hooks to the song titles ("True 2 Da Game", "My Maybach"), Gandhi has set the bait, but beneath the surface is a rapper who's skilled at writing catchy hooks and couplets and unafraid to let his flaws (both technical and lifestyle) be heard.</p>

<p><a href="–purling-hiss" target="_blank">Purling Hiss, <em>Water On Mars</em> (Drag City)</a></p>

<p><em>Water On Mars</em> is a pilgrimage to a place that our minds find difficult to even fathom, but once we get there, we realize we’ve known it all along. With influences like Dinosaur Jr. and Jimi Hendrix, Polizze has managed to turn a trip thousands of light-years away into an under-the-hour ride; we finish our astronaut ice cream before the rocket even docks. But in the current world, where the coldly digital art of laptopism takes the spotlight more times than not, the crushing sound of a man and his guitar can feel as foreign as if an inhuman lifeform were trying to communicate. New sounds, feelings, and worlds exit through Polizze’s fretboard and shred the gnar so thoroughly and deeply that one feels the need to ask: is there actually water on Mars?</p>

<p><a href="" target="_blank">King Krule, <em>6 Feet Beneath the Moon</em> (Hostess/True Panther Sounds/XL Recordings)</a></p>

<p>The cultural personality of working-class disillusionment and dissatisfaction unpacks itself on this album in the forms of teenage rage, melancholy, and uncertainty. Archy Marshall is caustic and scrappy, mixing metaphors and words with such errant pacing that his music is practically slam poetry to the foreground of free jazz. His diction is fast-paced and marble-mouthed, a natural quality of the unrefined accent of London’s peripheral neighborhoods, and his guitar descends into minor sevenths and twelfth-fret harmonics with ease. He melds elements of dub and jazz with occasionally unpalatable lyrical pandering in an accent that reeks of toughness. Adding that on to references to Bobbies, Tesco, the dole, fivers, and skivers (the rare Scotch reference on the record), <em>6 Feet Beneath the Moon</em> is like The Clash reuniting against the monarchy, all while forgetting the distortion.</p>

<p><a href="–d33j">D33J, <em>Gravel / Tide Songs </em>EPs (Anticon)</a></p>

<p>D33J’s Anticon debut, the <em>Tide Songs </em>EP, was a cordial introduction to an electronic artist whose identity is largely attached to the WEDIDIT Collective. Released earlier this year, the <em>Tide Songs</em> EP earned D33J an official spot on the team among Baths and Daedelus on Anticon and the larger brotherhood of the WEDIDIT crew. But, if the debut EP was D33J’s assimilation, proving his salt in an emerging canon of Shlohmo’s <em>Bad Vibes</em> and Ryan Hemsworth’s <em>Last Words</em> EP, then <em>Gravel </em>is his departure. D33J describes <em>Gravel </em>as occupying that hour of the night when you come home alone, buzzed from illicit substances, and the retreat to self-reflection sets in. It's slower, more methodical, and each track seeks out a discovery. With each track D33J asks more of his craft, delving deeper into the 3 a.m. mentality with each passing second.</p>

<p><a href="">Ahnnu, <em>World Music / Battered Sphinx</em> (Stones Throw/Leaving, NNA Tapes)</a></p>

<p>Delving into <em>Battered Sphinx</em>, the modern transmissions are met with the muffled sound of machine gun fire, but the texture is natural, possibly to a point that it shouldn't be. When the rain washes out the overture, a pergatory of a broken loop keeps the composition in awkward rest, until it is once again met with the cleansing power of another rain. NNA Tapes views Ahnnu as a musicial anthropologist. There's the lingering sense that he's challenging us for the sake of observation. He's woven the familiar of LA-based electronic tapes, the sample-based world, into this fractured space that taunts our senses with sounds that could be as familiar as a Flying Lotus production or deeper in our psyche like the soothing twinkle of a nursery mobile. But with each sensory cue, he slices it into unsettling repetition or abandons it just when we've come to expect comfort from it.</p>

<p><a href="" target="_blank">Saralee/Giving Up, <em>Wow! Great Price!</em> (Sophomore Lounge Records)</a></p>

<p>Summer is long over in these parts of the East Coast, and though November's rankings find us listening to a lot of noise and experimental albums, we can't seem to let go of this Saralee/Giving Up split. Rooted deeply in summer and spontaneous group trips to the beach, the blend of Saralee's two-piece lofi and Giving Up's indiepop duality are like a one-way ticket to imaginary humidity and sand beneath the toes. Tape releases may be having their it moment, but this one warrants the ubiquitous plastic model if only to make it more resilient to fast bike rides and tossing into canvas bags packed with tuna sandwiches.</p>

<p><a href="" target="_blank">Lee Noble, <em>Ruiner</em> (Bathetic)</a></p>

<p>Between Tim Hecker's <em>Virgins</em> and Lee Noble's <em>Ruiner</em>, it was hard to choose which experimental/ambient record we found most challenging and interesting this year, though we ultimately landed on Noble for a number of reasons. Noble, who is at the helm of <a href="" target="_blank">No Kings Records</a>, is a very specific kind of curator—both in his label business and in his own music—and those aesthetics show through brightly on <em>Ruiner</em>. Noble's latest is patient and drastic without spilling over the edges; longtime fans of any artist on Bathetic (Angel Olsen, William Cody Watson, Villages, et. al) should know that they'll find this record compelling, gorgeous, and expansive, without taking on too much of an emotional drain.</p>

<p><a href="">Jonwayne, <em>Rap Album One</em> (Stones Throw)</a></p>

<p>In the year since signing to Stones Throw, Los Angeles rapper/producer Jonwayne elevated his status with three choicely designed cassette tapes. Bluntly titled <em>Cassette</em>, the tapes were demo collections churned out by Jonwayne while he prepared his official debut. They were distinctly lo-fi, but the designs eclipsed the content. In making <em>Rap Album One</em>, he went through five bursts in creativity, overcoming the relearning stages of rapping, and developing his impulse to “say something with the record” into a cohesive collection of testimonials. Perhaps that’s why the overture “After The Calm” sounds like Chicken Little anticipating the skyfall. Its ominous production of Carpenter-esque synths and cold veined piano line resist a swell of psychedelia. He had to destroy preconceptions in order to build anew.</p>

<p><a href="" target="_blank">The Hussy, <em>Pagan Hiss</em> (Southpaw Records)</a></p>

<p>With the power and magic that The Hussy's third album, <em>Pagan Hiss</em>, delivers, there leaves very little room—actually, no room—for the listener to breathe. Moving with haste from one song to the next with deliberate, electric riffs, and the witchy yawping of Heather Hussy, one feels like they've been taken on a psych-grunge odyssey and both Bobby and Heather are the distorted Sirens pulling you to their Midwestern shores. Each song doesn't just "pack a punch," as many music writers are wont to say—The Hussy invented the punch. If you feel like the one thing your standard garage punk has been missing is guitar licks that propel into outerspace, <em>Pagan Hiss</em> is where you'll hear how it's done right.</p>

<p><a href="">milo, <em>things that happen at day // things that happen at night </em>EPs (Hellfyre Club)</a></p>

<p>The Latin title, "Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc", translates to "after this, therefore because of this", which in layman's can be explained as false cause or coincidental correlation. Baffled? Well, keep in mind it's a logical fallacy. Milo's "Post Hoc…" appears on the <em>Things At Night</em> side of the EP, giving it distilled 2 a.m. fragility and concerns in disappointing one's parents. Milo is personal journaling through "Post Hoc…" touching on thoughts as they creep up like what naming himself after a fictional character says about his mental health and if writing his brother Rob another song will bring further redemption. In all its defeatist woes, Milo settles the score on "Post Hoc…" by turning the Latin phrase into a sacred incantation sung above a growing hum of white noise.</p>

<p><a href="–the-clams" target="_blank">Shannon and the Clams, <em>Dreams in the Rat House</em> (Hardly Art)</a></p>

<p>If 2013 had you exhausted with 90s throwbacks, Shannon and the Clams' <em>Dreams in the Rat House </em>was surely your perfect antidote. The relics of the modern world can be found almost naturally among the Bay Area's vast garage and DIY rock scenes, and with The Clams' third record, reflections of yesterday's sounds herald from dreams and worlds of imagination. From the group's 50s and 60s music model for transferring internal and mental emotions, to the corresponding space-fantasyland-waves reminiscent of the McGuires Sisters, Zager & Evans, Marc Bolan, etc; Shannon Shaw and Cody Blanchard show how these vintage backdrops work with retro fairy tale tropes in order to create a record for today's times and expressions.</p>

<p><a href="" target="_blank">Bully, <em>S/T EP </em>(Self-released)</a></p>

<p>With only one EP under their belt, it'd be a foolhardy notion to claim that Nashville's Bully is the best band of the year (though, really, they are). But there is something so damn captivating about their debut self-titled four-track EP that puts us in a place of both severe contemplation and headbopping joy. The lyrics, which are as sharp as the comebacks you dream up months after having that last breakup fight, come through with steady ease over nineties-influenced guitars and sweetened vocals. There's not a hair out of place in the four tracks, which whiz by with three-piece lightness in the vein of Letters To Cleo vocals, Pavement college rock noodling, and unique lines like "I'm not your waterboy."</p>

<p><a href="">Armand Hammer, <em>Race Music</em> (Backwoodz Studioz)</a></p>

<p>With production by Steel Tipped Dove, Marmaduke, Willie Green, and Blue Sky Black Death, <em>Race Music</em> is a deadly medley of indigenous New York rap. Armand Hammer was a medical professional born of an immigrant family, who made his first million selling alcoholic ginger extract during Prohibition. From there, depending on who you ask, Hammer was the American Dream, a spy for the Soviet Union, a corrupter of politicians, an oil tycoon, and the grandfather of Theo Huxtable. Elucid and billy woods as Armand Hammer share his story to a degree (woods is the son of immigrants), but their business is the cerebral manifestation of rap aimed to address conflicts among black people. Many records claim New York, but <em>Race Music</em> is embedded beyond the cacophony of an Iron Jungle.</p>

<p><a href="" target="_top">DJ Koze, <em>Amygdala</em> (Pampa)</a></p>

<p>Our coverage of DJ Koze's left-field <em>Amygdala</em> release may be few and far between, and it wasn't until severely late in the year when we realized how idiotic we were for this omission. <em>Amygdala</em>, with its unpredictable vocal samples, lush tones, and incredible calming properties, is without a doubt one of the most interesting releases to come forward in 2013. The album cover, featuring Koze mounted on a reindeer, is not only indicative of the weirdness that this record possesses, but also reveals the electronic mastermind's sense of humor. What DJ Koze has crafted is a quilt-like torrent of stories, as if the Tower of Babel fell at his feet and he figured, "Hey, I might be the one to put this back together."</p>

<p><a href="–merchandise" target="_blank">Merchandise, <em>Totale Nite</em> (Night-People)</a></p>

<p>Even at Merchandise's most indulgent, they manage to raise some worthwhile questions about the creative stagnation and timorousness that’s plaguing an era of indie rock that’s currently growing more homogenous and pointlessly self-referential by the day. In an era replete with consummate craftsmen and curators who insist on billing themselves as something more, the band is struggling toward real artistic growth, and they achieve that goal on <em>Totale Nite</em>.</p>

<p><a href="–destruction-unit" target="_blank">Destruction Unit, <em>Deep Trip</em> (Sacred Bones)</a></p>

<p><em>Deep Trip</em> impressively couples clarity with density. It’s mixed to showcase the technique of Destruction Unit’s individual members. Percussive subtleties and collaborative nuance are often lost in recordings so saturated with guitar tracks and feedback, but all of the right details cut through the muck at the right times. There’s a riff above the noisy, nearly clipping crash cymbals during grandiose closer “Night Loner.” Only, in another section the riff is buried beneath noise, because the switch emphasizes the vocals. <em>Deep Trip</em> treads similar territory as last year’s <em>Void</em>, but superior production chisels the details. In this case, it’s an audible upgrade akin to switching from paper rubbing to Xerox, but that’s about all it needs. <em>Void</em>’s guitars sounded amorphous and dark, but <em>Deep Trip</em> illuminates the textures’ scars and boils without sacrificing spatial presence.</p>

<p><a href="–michael-beach" target="_blank">Michael Beach, <em>Golden Theft</em> (Twin Lakes Records)</a></p>

<p><em>Golden Theft</em> is refreshingly detached from trending reference points, nostalgia or gimmicky production techniques. It’s recorded by Trans Am's Phil Manley and mastered by Shellac’s Bob Weston, if you’d really like to know. Like the dramatic explanation of Beach’s international travels this review declines to dwell on, production credits are superfluous details. The instrumental tones are fairly conventional, the recording is pristinely clear. There’s nothing extraneous to interfere with Beach’s songs. In this case, it’s the wisest production decision possible.</p>

<p><a href="–natasha-kmeto" target="_blank">Natasha Kmeto, <em>Crisis</em> (Dropping Gems)</a></p>

<p><em>Crisis </em>integrates exploring, smooth vocal patterns; deep bass triplets; and familiar claps and hats (such as on "Last Time") but they seem more at home being tweaked on a laptop in a Bristol flat than they do the West Coast. “Deeply” uses the same combination: a familiar vocal arrangement for kids raised on 90s RnB accompanied by percussion not obviously compatible, perhaps slightly alienating. Kmeto understands the textures of her voice and how to shape rich harmonies from the ground up, and one can safely assume this signature will carry her forward. But lyrically, <em>Crisis</em> is the brooding older sibling to Kmeto's debut: dark, jaded, and heavy with sexual misgivings. On “Last Time,” she laments: “All alone / that’s what she wants to be / that’s she’s kissing my lips again, again . . . It will never be the last time.”</p>

<p><a href="">Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire, <em>Kismet</em> (Life Is Passion)</a></p>

<p>In our <a href="">rooftop interview</a> with Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire he talks about how he needed to kill the devil's advocate in the room. For him the advocate was a voice telling him to do his shit like Drake and 2 Chainz. With the release of <em>Kismet</em>, eXquire reveals tracks like "Orbz a.k.a. Some Wise Quote Drake Never Said" and "Chains", which flexes a chorus of "motherfuck them chains / you'd think we've had enough of fucking chains." "Noble Drew Ali" hinted at eXquire being on a different plain, possibly one more spiritually advised, and <em>Kismet</em> confirms the suspicions, but in a manner exclusive to the eXperience of Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire. While we await eXquire's major label debut, Kismet tides us over with 16 tracks unfit for radio and album art that would be banned from the shelves or sheathed in a black bar if this was anything more than a very serious mixtape.</p>

<p><a href="" target="_blank">Jerry Paper, <em>Fuzzy Logic</em> (Digitalis)</a></p>

<p>In a similar style to tour pals Andy Boay, Cool World, and Tonstartssbandht, Jerry Paper utilizes unruly shimmers that bank on brilliant subtlety to create his slow-burning styles for slow Sunday mornings. Though we covered <em>Fuzzy Logic</em> in our cassette best ofs, we doubled up after remembering how <em>Fuzzy Logic</em> helped us through a year of false starts. Jerry Paper's retrofitted lounge act is delayed, hazy, and full of flanges, but never too fierce on the ears. It offers much and demands little.</p>

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